The Serpent Transmission
Samten de Wet
[A Version of this text was published in The Hermetic Journal, Edinburgh, 1986.]
The `coding' and `transmission' of Hermetic information does not take place in a void. A `matrix' is generated, which acts as a necessary carrier for the information.This `vehicle' or `medium' ensures the continuity of the Teachings. Our focus if this exploration is what John Lilly terms a `meta-programme', taking concrete form as a Lineage of Transmitters. We then have to ask who, or what are the Transmitters? How does the meta-programme operate, and what are the specific qualities of activity of its transmitters?
We commence with a classical Hermetic Emblem - the 42nd Emblem of `Atalanta Fugiens':
May Nature, Reason, Exercise & Literature be the guide, staff, spectacle & lamps for him who participates in chemistry.
"Nature be your guide; follow her with your art willingly, closely,
You err, if she is not your companion on the way
Reason be your staff,Exercise may strengthen your sight,
On account of which things that are far away can be discerned,
Literature be your lamp, shining in the darkness,
In order to guard against an accumulation of things &
The same picture appears on the Title-page of the 1625 edition of Musaeum Hermeticum. In this variation, a second figure, also with staff,spectacles and lamp, is seen crossing the bridge in the distance, and the figure of Nature carries a blazing Six Pointed Star, or Pentagram, in her left hand.
It is obvious that the figure of the Old Man is `The Sage', or `The Hermit' - Arcanum 9 of The Sacred Tarot. Fred Gettings says of this Emblem:
"It is an image of an old man searching in the dark, feeling his way with a stick and lighting up his path with a lantern."
We can see from the content of Emblem 42, that this is a negative or reductionalistic interpretation. This archetypal `Wise Man' is always associated with the astrological sign of Aquarius.
The three figures of the Title-page of The Hermetic Museum, suggest a process of continuity, a transmission of the Light. Embedded within this Emblem, is the principle of the Transmission of Wisdom, or Light, and this observation will be extensively expanded from the visual references before us.
Michael Maier gives us a direct clue in the following quotation from his`Themis Aurea':
"There were certain rites and Ceremonies done at Athens in honour of Prometheus, Vulcan and Minerva after this manner: many were appointed to run into the City with lighted torches, and he whose light was out, gave place to the others, so that the victory was obtained by him who could come first at the goal with his flaming torch: The meaning was to express the propagation of secrets for the putting out of a torch is the death of a Predecessor, so that another living with his lighted torch succeeds him, by which means the rare mysteries of Chemistry come safe to after generations."
As evidence of the deep materialism and spiritual poverty our civilization has fallen into - we can see this esoteric transmission of the Light of Wisdom, has now degenerated into the shameful Olympic Games.
In his `Arcana Arcanissima', Michael Maier amplifies this Hermetic view of the transmission of the ` rare mysteries of Chemistry":
"Perhaps the Lampadephoria are illustrative of our "work".These games were used in this manner. Runners carried a lamp or torch from one point to another in a chain of competitors, each of whom formed a successive link. The first, after running a certain distance, handed the lamp or torch to the second, and so on until the point proposed was reached. Herototus uses the games as a comparison to illustrate the living image of successive generations of men. The action of carrying an unextinguished light from the Cerameicus to the Acropolis is a lively symbol of the benefit conferred by the Titan (Prometheus) upon man, when he bore fire from the habitations of the gods, and bestowed it upon man. But the gratitude to the giver of fire passed to Hephaestos, who taught men to apply it to melting and moulding of metal. Other writers hold that the game had an inner significance, "alluding to the inward fire by which Prometheus put life into man." One symbol on a coin referring to these games shows a serpent surrounding in a circle. Reference is also made to the common altar of Vulcan and Pallas, to the fire of Vesta, to the chief place which Vulcan held amid the Egyptian gods, and to the Germanic races."
We shall accept that the highest symbolic content of Emblem 42, is Promethean in content. Prometheus rules the highest Grade of the Memory Theatre of Camilio:
"The seventh grade is assigned to all the arts - both noble and vile - and above each gate is Prometheus with a lighted torch."
Francis Yates continues:
"The image of Prometheus who stole the sacred fire and taught men knowledge of the gods and all the arts and sciences thus becomes the topmost image - at the head of the gates on the highest grade of the Theatre.The Prometheus grade includes not only all the arts and sciences - but also religion - and law."
Francis Yates, The Memory Theatre, p. 141.
With this Promethean citadel before us, we must work our way back to the process through which the Fire of Wisdom is transmitted through time and space. This process of a Transmission Lineage is most likely universal, but it has been beautifully woven into historical reality by Tibetan Buddhism in particular. The Tibetan Transmission is given in great detail in `The Blue Annals', translated by George Roerich. The French mystic, Rene Daumal expresses the compassionate motive of this Lineage in simple and clear terms in his prophetic book - `Mount Analogue':
"To reach the summit one must proceed from encampment to encampment. But before setting out for the next refuge, one must prepare for those coming up after to occupy the place one is leaving. Only after having prepared for them can one go on up. That is why before setting out for a new refuge, we had to go back down in order to pass on our knowledge to other seekers."
Daumal, Rene Mount Analogue (Shambhala:)
This "Knowledge" is the `Fire of the Gods', the arts and sciences, religion and law, brought from 'the habitations of the gods" by Prometheus, to mankind. It is The Light of the Wisdom Teachings which can guided Humankind over countless millennia.
Now we amplify the details of Emblem 42, as this image appears in the 9th Arcanum of the Tarot: The Hermit, Sage, Wise Man or Seer, who is following in the footsteps of Mother Nature, and carrying the Promethean `Lamp' of `Torch'.
Aquarius, the stellar ruler of this image has as its keynote: 'Wisdom" or 'Prudence'. But Aquarius is more commonly shown as THE WATER BEARER, a Youth pouring out water from a jar.The Larousse Mythology says:
"In primitive times Ganymede seems to have been conceived as the deity responsible for sprinkling the earth with heaven's rain. He is compared with the Vedic SOMA ..."
" Ancient astronomers identified him with Aquarius, the Water-carrier." Fred Gettings
Ganymede as the "cup-bearer of the gods, dispensed the nectar or soma, from a golden bowl. But the Sage of the Egyptian Arcanum 9, and the Wise Man of Emblem 42 of `Atalanta Fugiens' both carry LAMPS of LIGHT, and not water, as is commonly shown.
To complicate matters, Aquarius is an AIR sign, ruled by the revolutionary URANUS. As Aquarius is the cosmic frequency fro the next 2,000 years, with its Keynote of `Wisdom', the variation between the Youth carrying water in a jar, and the Sage carrying Light in a Lamp, is of some significance to the future of humanity, in this day and age.
What is the symbolic interweaving of the Light Bearers and the Water Bearers? Maier seems to only give attention to the transmission lineage of the Torch of Fire.
But this convergence of the Two Elements of Fire and Water in the 9th Arcanum of the Tarot, introduces a wide spectrum of symbolic research. Initiation by Fire and Initiation by Water are the two great themes of this exploration. H.P.Blavatsky gives this cryptic clue on the nature of the Promethean Mysteries:
"Prometheus is a symbol and a personification of the whole of mankind in relation to an event which occurred during its childhood - so to say - the "Baptism by Fire" - which is a mystery within the great Promethean Mystery one that may be at present mentioned only in its broad general features."
Thus we can see why the 9th Arcanum symbolizes the initiatory transmission and protection of the "rare mysteries". Using the Law of Correspondence, the great Hermetic strategy of analogy, we find that Aquarius, the Sage, Arcanum 9, corresponds to the 9th Letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which means `Roof':
"The Hebrew Teth of the Italian pack certainly confirms this idea of protection, for it represents a roof, or a place of shelter, and may be linked with wisdom and forethought."Fred Gettings.
This has even greater significance when we realize that the ancient Egyptian equivalent for the astrological sign of Aquarius was `CANOPUS'.(A Canopy?):
"The word brings to mind a place of shelter and refers to a "tent" which the initiate learns to build. This "tent" is sometimes termed "The Illuminated Heart" and sometimes the "Sacred Heart."
The beauty of Hermetic Thought - the aesthetics of analogical thinking, can be demonstrated at this point. We have Prometheus stealing the 'Fire of the Gods' - a Mystery celebrated in the famous 'Lampadephoria', the run with the Lighted Torches. But where, symbolically speaking, would this 'Fire' be situated?
Physiologically speaking, the heart is the centre of the body. The Sun is the Heart of our Solar System. The Sun rules the astrological sign of LEO, which is opposite to Aquarius in the Zodiac. The lighted lamp carried by 'The Sage' and the Torches of the Lampadephoria, are both indicating that this 'FIRE' is actually at the centre of our Being. It is the 'Illuminated Heart.'
Prometheus is 'The One who thinks ahead' or 'The Forerunner'. There is a possible resonance here with the Buddhist Maitreya, the Future Buddha and the Buddha of Love. Prometheus pays a severe price for breaking through to the "habitation of the gods" and stealing the sacred fire. He endures a torment that involves the participation of many other gods. Oceanus and the Oceanides, the ancient Water Gods, sympathize with Prometheus. The associations of Fire and Water as transmission agents appears in the play 'Prometheus Bound' by Aeschylus. Water and Fire Epiphanies have to be perceived as running parallel to each other. And in the symbol of the 'Illuminated Heart' we have both Fire and Water fused as a Stream of Blood.
Central to this enquiry is the fact that Fire, in the form of a lamp, torch, flame or light, is transmitted from generation to generation "...to express the propagation of secrets." But we have to penetrate this material even further. For what is the quintessential nature of this Fire?
Aquarius, the Sage is ruled by Uranus, the planetary instigator of revolutionary acts that could be generally termed 'Promethean.' In the Sacred Tarot, Uranus is equated with Arcanum 10 - 'The Wheel.'
"The Planet Uranus", says C.C.Zain, is the "...general signifier of sudden changes of fortune, of inventions, discoveries, and of unconventional relations and actions." This well describes the actions of Prometheus. Uranus corresponds to the 10th Letter of the Hebrew alphabet - the Letter YOD, of which C.C.Zain says:
"Yod signifies the number 10, which is the perfect number, the number of the Sephiroth on the Tree of Life, who in turn symbolize the forces of Spirit in operation. It (the Yod) has the conventional form of the free flame, the tips of which are sometimes called "jots'. Every letter (of the Hebrew alphabet) is really made up of Yods, or modified Yods, together with the enlarged or diminished "jots" and connecting lines. In very careful writing this symbolic flame detail can be detected, and sometimes even in poor script or printing it is still evident. That the flames also point to the starry heavens is shown in the tradition that the twenty-two letters really imitate certain small asterisms of the zodiac which they picture in miniature."
Corrine Helene says of the Yod:
"Among the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet which mystically understood, outline first the general path of evolution for the many but also the straight and narrow initiatory path for the few, the letter Yod is one of the most important and powerful. It forms an essential part of each and every one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It is therefore a symbol of the omnipresence of Deity."
I do not think that Helene is being precise enough when she says that YOD is "...a symbol of the omnipresence of Deity."C.C.Zain continues with:
"Thus the alphabet as a whole symbolized Light, but only a few of the letters reveal this in their present form, while the symbolic meaning still in our day lies under the veil of the Mysteries."
Interestingly enough, an image on the Promethean Grade of the Memory Theatre is:"BOY WITH ALPHABET, grammar."
We have now established that YOD is a "symbolic flame" or Light. Is the YOD therefore the 'Illuminated Heart" at the centre of all being? Does Prometheus actually steal the YOD from the "...habitation of the gods"? Or is it the Habitation of the YODS?
By his revolutionary act, does Prometheus break through the fabric of being, to the core, or Inner Well of Fire?
At this profound level, we have to turn, in great humility to the Kabala for further guidance. For its has been said, that Greek Mythology is the Kabala Hellenised. The origin of Fire has its correspondences in the Zohar, as quotes by G. Scholem in his 'Major Trends' &c.
"In the beginning, when the will of the King began to take effect, he engraved signs into the divine aura. A dark flame sprang forth from the innermost recess of the mystery of the Infinite, En-Soph, like a fog which forms out of the formless, enclosed in the ring of this aura, neither white nor black, neither red nor green, and of no colour whatever. But when this flame began to assume size and extension it produced radiant colours. For in the innermost centre of the flame a well sprang forth from which flames poured upon everything below, hidden in the mysterious secrets of En-Soph. The well broke through, and yet did not entirely break through, the ethereal aura which surrounded it. It was entirely unrecognizable until under the impact of its break-through a hidden supernal point shone forth. Beyond this point nothing may be known or understood, and therefore it is called RESHITH, that is, `BEGINING', the first word of creation."
Surely this brings us to the very edge of the `Veil of the Mysteries', in general, and the Great Promethean Mystery, in particular.
This "hidden supernal point' is by way of the `Kabala Denudata', as used by C.G.Jung, identified with the YOD:
"When the Wisdom of the Blessed One saw that even in this splendor the worlds could not be manifested, since the Light was still too weak there, he again signalled to this letter YOD that it should once more give forth its light, which was a little denser."
"YOD is attached to the "summit of the crown" and descends upon Sapientia (Hokhmah): "It scattered light and an eminent influence on that Wisdom."
In the Kabala, the Sephira HOKHMAH, (Sapientia) is WISDOM and identified with URANUS, and the Letter YOD, the Number 10 - ruling AQUARIUS on the astrological, or Stellar level.
What is of vital significance here, is that the conflict between Water and Fire symbolism in the 9th Arcanum of the Tarot is reconciled with the statement from the Zohar that:
"...from the innermost centre of the flame a well sprang forth..."
Our Promethean Flaming Torch can also be a gushing well of Light. This is extended by G. Scholem:
"In the passage from the Zohar which has been quoted from above, the image of the point is already combined with the more dynamic one of the fountains which springs from the heart of the mystical Nothing. In many places, the primordial point is directly identified with this fountain from which all bliss and all blessings flow. This is the mystical Eden - Eden meaning literally bliss and joy - and from here the stream of divine life takes its course and flows through all the Sefiroth and through all hidden reality, until at last it falls into the "great sea" of Shekhinah, in which God unfolds his totality."
Quoting from the `Kabala Denudata', Jung continues:
"YOD is the "vas" or "vasculum" into which the "fount of the sea" pours, and from which the "fount gushing forth wisdom" issues."
And again, in the `Kabala Denudata' we come across the idea of the `point' that `flows':
"Yod, because it is simple, is sometimes singular and primary, and like the number `1', which, among numbers as a point, is the first of all bodies. But the point by moving along its length produces a line, namely, VAU."
It must be remembered that Uranus, the YOD, number 10 is the octave expression of number 1, Mercury, the Aleph. The "moving point" of the flaming YOD is an idea contained in the relay race of the lighted torches of the Lampedephoria. It expresses perfectly the integrity and continuity of a lineage of transmission from a celestial dimension downwards.
This "flowing point" is suggested in the two opening Theorems of the `Monas Hieroglyphica' of Dr John Dee. (Antwerp, 1564.):
"Theorem 1. The first and most simple manifestation and representation of things, non-existent as well as latent in the folds of nature, happened by means of straight line and circle.
Theorem 2. Yet the circle cannot be artificially produced without the straight line, or the straight line without the point. Hence, things first began to be by way of a point, and a monad. And things related to the periphery (however big they may be) can in no way exist without the aid of a central point."
As John Dee explains, this `Hieroglyphic Monad' - "cabbalistically" there is reason to see this "Monad" as the supernal point of YOD, Hokhmah.
There are various versions of this idea that have come down to us since ancient times. Dorn in his `Physica Genesis' says:
"Out of this little point, the wisdom of God made with the creative Word the "huge machine of the world".
Dorn repeats this is different words in the 'Theatricum Chemicum':
"O wondrous wisdom, which by a word alone was able to bring into being every part of the vast and weighty mass of this huge machine that hath been made since creation."
Here the `point' is also a `Word', which is a well known aspect of Eastern mysticism where the `seed-syllable' or `sound-point' is called the BINDU.
These quotations on the nature of the YOD, open up more metaphysical questions, the answers to which must remain hidden behind the Veil of the Mysteries. But in relation to the `point', Lama Anagarika Govinda, gives us an insight to the Buddhist teachings on this subject:
"Its centre is a sphere which represents the seed or germ of the universe in its undifferentiated form as `bindu'(dot, zero,drop, smallest unit). Its potential force is indicated in pictorial representations by a spiral issuing from the centre of the sphere."
The word `bindu' is Sanscrit for `drop' dot, 'point'. The Tibetan equivalent is `thig le'. Keith Dowman calls this Bindu `spot' as well as `seed-essence'. He continues:
" A single BINDU is a point of emptiness analogous to the cosmic egg."
There are deeper levels of interpretation which we will not go into at this point. Scholem writes:
"By the Zohar, as by the majority of the other Kabbalistic writers, this primal point is identified with the wisdom of God, HOKHMAH. God's wisdom represents the ideal thought of Creation, conceived as the ideal point which itself springs from the impulse of the abysmal will. The author extends the comparison by likening it to the mystical seed which is sown into Creation, the point of comparison apparently being not only the subtlety of both but also the fact that in either the possibilities of further being are potentially, though as yet invisibly, existent."
The similarities between the "seed-essence" of the tantric BINDU (thig le), and "the mystical seed" or the "primal point' of the Kabala are of extraordinary ignificance in the context of the Promethean myth.The levels of enquiry that open up here in the Kabala are too profound to be dealt with by a student such as myself. We complee this section with a Prayer to Yod from`The Magical Calendar of Tycho Brahe':
"The One Lettered Name of God - YOD
One, the begining and end of all things;
without begining or end -
One soul of the World - One world -
One Philosophers Stone - One Heart -
One Supreme Intelligence
Unity, the Love of Harmony and Friendship,
The Source and origin of the Numbers,
has nothing preceding or following.
One King, the Source of the Light of the Stars,
Also One Phoenix in the World."
As we know, YOD corresponds to URANUS and the 10th Arcanum of the Sacred Tarot: `The Wheel of Fortune'. The Key word for this Arcanum is CHANGE. A better word is: IMPERMANENCE. The English letters `I', `J', and `Y' correspond to the Hebrew YOD. By a wild association, Helmut Wilhelm, in his lectures on the I CHING elaborates on the Chinese ideogram/letter `I' It is tempting to find a profound similarity, or at least a solidarity of structure in this quote by Wilhelm:
"The character I, which in translation we have simplified as "change", belongs to the original stock of the Chinese language."
"It is often found on oracle bones and early bronze inscriptions. To throw light on the semantics of this word is not easy, for the most divergent explanations exist. Etymologically, form-parallelism seems to have led to the blending of two different complexes in this word. The first meaning seems to have been "lizard."
"Alluding to the inward fire by which Prometheus put life into man", Michael Maier mentions a symbol referring to the Lampadephoria showing "...a serpent surrounding in a circle". This is obviously the UROBOROS, the serpent biting its own tail. With URANUS and YOD, we have many associations between the 'reptile' and 'Change' or' Impermanence'.
H. Wilhelm links the Chinese ideograph 'I' to the chameleon as well. Hermetically this is condensed into the symbol of the Uroboros. The letter YOD, as a point, or bindu of Flame, permeates all of the 22 Letters of the Hebrew Alphabet, which says that CHANGE and IMPERMANENCE exists within each of the archetypal matrices of the Kabala, or the Sacred Tarot, or of Existence Itself.
This is revealed in certain Tarot decks where 'The Wheel of Fortune' is labeled ROTA. It is obvious that ROTA is an anagram of TARO. ROTA is the Latin for Wheel. Thus we can easily replace 'rotate' with the word 'revolve' and then REVOLUTION. Using a triune tantric paradigm of Being, we can speculate:
The GROUND, the PATH and the GOAL are three aspects of Existence. If we view the full series of the 22 Letters as a spectrum of containers, or embodiments of the Mystery of Being, of Life Itself - we could say that IMPERMANENCE, REVOLUTION, or CHANGE is the GROUND of Being. That is, Change and Impermanence are the only constant factors on this level of phenomena. If we place the 22 Letters standing upright in a circle, then we have the PATH, which is circular and ROTATES without beginning or end, like the Uroboros, the Aleph devouring the Omega. In his book 'The Cipher of Genesis', Carlo Suares says:
"The twenty-two graphs which are used as letters in the Hebrew alphabet are twenty-two proper names originally used to designate different states or structures of the one cosmic energy, which is essence and semblance of all that is."
The 22 Letters with their Flames of YOD's, are the Path and point to the starry heavens above. (The Hermetic Law: ' As Above, So Below'.) This entire unitary meta-programme is the GOAL.
In his 'Buddhist Philosophy in Theory and Practice, Prof. H.V.Guenther links the Tantra to the Kabala with this mention of the mystic Tibetan "spell-letters" The:
"...yi-ge'khor-lo tshogs chen sa" level where the universe is present as a rotating procession of spell-letters."
Each "letter" evokes a vision which links up with other letters in an endless progression.
It is not only, or merely FIRE that Prometheus steals from the Gods. It is the Fire of Impermanence.FIRE and LIGHT are two degrees of the same cosmic energy - we could say that LIGHT is the Ground of Being.
Uranus, the YOD is the decave of Mercury - number 1. There are many associations of Mercury/Hermes with CHANGE. ROTA/Rotation, as the Wheel of Fortune is also connected to the Wheel of Ezekiel, which is another code for YOD/Uranus/10. Zain writes that:
"In humanity, as composed of two 5's, 10 indicates the whole man to consist of both man and woman, and that their union commences a new and higher phase of existence;..."
Writing about the 'I' Wilhelm again confirms a link between the Chinese ideogram and YOD:
"Another explanation finds in the character ('I') a combination of sun and moon, that is, of the two fundamental forces, yin and yang,..."
Perhaps the brilliant inspiration and inventiveness of natives of Uranus could be attributed to this union of opposites, and to the existential awareness of impermanence and change, which allows greater 'flow' in personal evolution. This meta-programmatic ideology is confirmed by a study of 'Atalanta Fugiens'. The core image is 'The Burning Salamander' - a suitable symbol for the reptilian energies of change and impermanence.
Carlo Suares deals with the polarities between Change and the strategies which we set up to destroy and obstruct this 'permanent revolution'. This is known in mythic Hermetic grammar, as the castration of Uranus, by Saturn/Kronos.
Further notes on 'Yod' as Sacred Centre.
Alain de Lille, a 12th century theologian, borrowing from the Corpus Hermeticum of the 3rd Century:
"God is an intelligible sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere."
While Giordano Bruno wrote:
"We can assert with certainty that the universe is all centre, or that the centre of the universe is everywhere and its circumference is nowhere."
Pascal used the following words:
"God is a circle; His centre is everywhere, His circumference is nowhere."
Or in another translation:
"Nature is an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere."
And in his short story: 'The Library of Babel', J.L.Borjes plays with the idea:
"The library is a sphere whose exact centre is in any one of the hexagons and whose circumference is inaccessible."
Contained within the dual symbolism of AQUARIUS is a dual transmission. This manifests as we have seen in the FIRE signification of the Lamp, or Light, that the Sage carries, and the Lighted Torches of the Lampadephoria, on the one hand, and the youth pouring the Jug of Water, on the other.
It may be possible to see this polarity as PUER and SENEX: the Child and the Old Man. Astrologically they represent Mercury (The Boy) and Saturn (The Old Man). This paradigm would place Water in the hands of Youth, and Fire in the hands of Age. Which ever way you look at it, we can establish a that a dual esoteric transmission takes place from the Font of Aquarius, or its ruler: URANUS - through two Lineages of Transmitters; those of the Initiations of Water, and those of Initiations of Fire.
In the final analysis, it is a Marriage of Fire and Water, that concerns Michael Maier in 'Atalanta Fugiens" in particular, and in all Hermetic and Alchemical symbolism in general.
The Union of Atalanta and Hippomenes can be amplified into countless permutations. Like an organic process of expansion and contraction, these Transmission 'waves' have cyclic patterns of activity and dormancy.
In his memorial address: 'In memory of Richard Wilhelm', C.G. Jung stated:
"We have today a Gnostic movement in the anonymous masses which exactly corresponds psychologically with the Gnostic movement nineteen hundred years ago."
The period between, which roughly corresponds to the astrological cycle of the Age of Pisces, with its Key words of SACRIFICE and MARTYRDOM, was qualified by a carefully controlled and manipulated psychic censorship that held sway until the 20th Century.
During this period, Gnosticism, or the Higher Knowledge and Wisdom, was submerged beneath the surface of history. For example, even at this point the Hermetic influence on the Renaissance is not commonly acknowledged. From the Imperial heights of the Roman Empire; the birth of Christianity and the suppression of the Mysteries, this inner 'psychic' or 'meta-programmatic' war, continued under the surface history of Europe.The various Crusades, the burning of the Library of Alexandria, outbursts of iconoclasm, Inquisitions and Heresies, all took their toll on the Gnostic tradition.
Entire gnostic cultures, such as the Cathars were brutally wiped out in genocidal actions, orchestrated by the Church.The work of Michael Maier bore fruit just before the cataclysmic 30 Years War. The last unitary culture - Tibet - fell to materialism in the late 1950's.
This well-nourished ignorance bred and maintained a system of repression that ruthlessly pushed gnosticism off the materialistic world stage. Astrologers credit the Gnostic revival of this century with the incoming energies of the Age of Aquarius. Thus the Transmission of the Light, or Illuminated Heart of Prometheus, is the revolutionary YOD of Uranus.
As we know, the 30 Years War was one such historic process with the aim of crushing the gnostic 'Hermetic'Renaissance and the 'Universal Reformation', to which it was leading. Michael Maier and his circle were positioned exactly in the centre of the nodes of power in this struggle. Maier was one "living with his lighted torch" and because of his work over three centuries ago, "the rare mysteries of Chemistry (have) come safe to after generations." Therefore it is obvious that a strategy of survival was necessary.
As we have unfolded in some detail the Serpent/Uranus correspondences elsewhere, in connection with reptilian energy - it is to the associated significance of the chameleon that we turn. Because it is a reptile and changes colour frequently, the chameleon is a suitable symbol for 'CHANGE'. As we saw Helmut Wilhelm linked the chameleon to the original ideograph for 'I' of the I CHING, The Book of Changes. But here the chameleon has a strategic value for the Gnostic/Hermetic transmission which is its ability for camouflage.
Michael Maier in 'Themis Aurea' uses the chameleon to confirm the value of a camouflage strategy for the Rosicrucian/Hermetic fraternity of Transmitters:
"The chameleon by being like unto every thing she comes near doth often escape, the Ants and many Insects have wings and can be scarcely be known what they first were, so happy is that change which guides to safety."
This opens up another of the qualities of what I term the Lineage of the Serpent.In order to survive the persecution of the enemies of Wisdom, the real transmission was set into deeper knowledge in the form of codes and ciphers, in a wide variety of cultural matrices. Perhaps in a biological sense, this knowledge became subconscious.
Evans-Wentz in his 'Tibetan Book of Liberation' writes:
"Some of the more learned lamas, including the late Lama Kazi Samdup have believed that since very early times there has been a secret international symbol-code in common use among the initiates, which affords a key to the meaning of such occult doctrines as are still jealously guarded by religious fraternities in India, as in Tibet, and in China, Mongolia and Japan."
Perhaps the time has come for the "jealous guardians" to release their stored treasures for the benefit of Humanity.
Michael Maier was in possession of this initiatory symbol-code. He confirms this in his 'Arcana Arcanissima':
"Below all the stories of the gods lay an arcane meaning. The supposed murders, sins, adulteries of these gods were really allegories. These were symbols for the eyes, but had a very different meaning when addressed to the heart. Belief in one God was really, though perhaps secretly professed."
Maier continues this theme in his 'Themis Aurea':
"Alexander the Great, being in Egypt learned of Leon the priest, that the Gods there and those which were everywhere else worshiped as Jupiter,Dionysis, Mars and others were no Gods, and He, by letter informed his mother, but commanded that the Letter should forthwith be consecrated to Vulcan, least the multitude adoring these Gods should run into confusion: so likewise in Nature if their mysteries were known, what would become of order?"
From the Glossary of "The Life of Marpa', we read:
"CODE LANGUAGE (Tibetan: brDa.sKad) Some portions of tantric teachings are so secret that they are actually written in a code language. This term, however, has a broader meaning when it is applied to the use of symbolism in an esoteric manner, in order to communicate spiritual messages indirectly.
Maier was aware of this code language. In the 'Arcana' he:
"...inquires whether these old stories may not have some other meaning, a meaning more secret and arcane. He desires a more original, a deeper,a truer meaning to be found in the old hieroglyphics and stories of these gods and daemons."
"...may have other meanings more concealed..." And:
"...may unfold to us greater and more wonderful things." And:
"...form a sort of grammar which may teach men how to read and explain many interesting things."
What is clear here, is that both Eastern and Western transmission lineages used encoding as a camouflage strategy for survival and the transmission of arcane wisdom in safety. William Blake in his 'The Laacoon' seals this direction of thought with:
"The Gods of Greece and Egypt were mathematical Diagrams - see Plato's works."
Maier is here revealing a crucial function of Hermetic perception, the 'reading' or 'seeing' of information, which sometimes gives the Hermetic approach the quality of a metaphysical detective story. This "sort of grammar' has all the basic structural necessities for an encoded syntax to exist, from simple letters to an alphabet of hieroglyphics.
It is extremely difficult to restore or 'salvage' the psychological perspective of 'Atlanta Fugiens' - if, that is, we insist on approaching the material with rational thinking. The rational, or scientific 'ordering' of the material becomes the major stumbling block.Talking about the lunar initiations, M. Esther Harding says:
"I present these thoughts about the meaning of the ancient moon initiations entirely undogmatically. They cannot be proved by any rational argument."
This is confirmed in another way by Prof Gerrit Huizer when he writes:
"It seems practically impossible to come to grips with the spiritual phenomena described above in a serious way without participation and practicing them at least to some extent."
Intellect is equated with the hemisphere of the brain that is polarized to the hemisphere that processes intuition. This vast subject has been well documented and even updated in such books as 'The Sphinx and the Rainbow'. An old Zen saying has been rephrased thus:
"The hemisphere that knows, speaks not,
the hemisphere that speaks, knows not."
Chunag-tzu provides us with another radiant jewel of thought:
"Things are produced around us, but no man knows the whence. They issues forth, but no one sees the portal. Men one and all value that part of knowledge which is known. They do not know how to avail; themselves of the Unknown in order to reach knowledge. Is this not misguided?"
C.G.Jung put the problem in these words:
"I for my part prefer the precious gift of doubt, for the reason that it does not violate the virginity of things beyond our ken."
In 'The Magus' by John Fowles, Conchis says:
"This is because mystery has energy. It pours energy into whatever seeks an answer to it. If you disclose the solution to the mystery, you are simply depriving other seekers..."
"But I am talking of the general psychological health of the species, man. He needs the existence of mysteries. Not their solution."
Albert Einstein had his way of viewing this dynamic:
"The human mind is not capable of grasping the universe. We are like a little child, entering a huge library. The walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written these books. It does not know who or how.It does not understand the languages in which the books are written, but the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books - a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects."
We should note a deeper meaning to the words "...a mysterious order".. of Einstein - and in this context we should read the short story 'The Library of Babel' by J.L. Borjes.
William Willeford in his brilliant Jungian study of clowns, 'The Fool and His Sceptre':-
"Something that is deeply symbolic does not have a single point to get; rather it presents us with facets behind which the effective core remains inaccessible."
This "effective core" is the "energy of mystery" which is defined by C.G.Jung:
"The unconscious is an autonomous psychic entity; any efforts to drill it are only apparently successful and moreover are harmful to consciousness. It is and remains beyond the reach of subjective and arbitrary control, in a realm where nature, and her secrets can neither be improved nor perverted, where we can listen but may not meddle."
The outer surfaces and textures of existence, with which we are all familiar, contain hidden beneath the layers of experience, deeper structures or archetypes. A simple structural analogy, is that we can see the bone beneath the skin.
We could safely say that the entire process of exploration of the Hermetic world, for example, this research, is an ongoing journey that leads one to and through a series of REVELATIONS. There is a transparency to the process, and not the mere attainment of a Goal.
Ignorance, the causal factor that produces the fruit of suffering is the most common condition of sentient beings; while the Revelation, or Revelations of Truth are essentially economic actions, freeing us from the shackles of suffering and ignorance, and opening up new vistas of creative evolutionary growth.
But we must be careful not to approach this process of learning with an incorrect outlook. To construct this research upon a foundation of sand will be no use.As a note of warning, we should look at the image of Arcanum 16 of The Sacred Tarot, which is known as 'The Struck Tower' or sometimes, 'The Lightening' and depicts the destruction of a Tower or Pyramid, with two figures falling - with other variations, according to the iconographic details of different packs.C.C.Zain admonishes us that this image depicts:
"In the intellectual world, the exhaustion of the mind which attempts to penetrate the Mystery of God."
We cannot penetrate or violate the Mysteries of the Veil of God, with only the rational, logical and linear approach. These areas must remain unformed, spacious and open. In the Hermetic transmission, chaos, or a lack of order is counterbalanced by the definite plan or design of existence. The secret structures are REVEALED by organic mystic penetration, which nevertheless is "...beyond the reach of subjective and arbitrary control." This 'Revelation' is spontaneous and self-arising.
As Lama Anagarika Govinda has written:
"The infinity of space and the infinity of consciousness are identical.In the moment in which a being becomes conscious of the infinity of space, he realizes the infinity of consciousness."
Compare this to a statement of Einstein:
"The human mind is not capable of grasping the universe."
One could say that Einstein takes a negative approach.
And Leon Bloy, says:
"The statement by St Paul: Videmus nunc per speculum in aenigmate would be a skylight through which one might submerge himself in the true Abyss, which is the soul of man.The terrifying immensity of the firmament's abysses is an illusion, and external reflection of our own abysses, perceived "in a mirror". We should invert our eyes and practice a sublime astronomy in the infinitude of our hearts, for which God was willing to die...If we see the Milky Way, it is because it actually exists in our own souls."
Quoted in 'The Mirror of Enigmas' by J.L. Borges.
Here we are confronted with the quintessential Hermetic Teaching "As Above, So Below, and That which is Above is Like Unto that which is Below."
Camille Mauclair in his 'Esthique de Mallarme' gives another Hermetic view of existence:
"The Universe is, as it were, a huge manuscript in which each object is a letter and the totality of which recounts the Divine... Human beings endowed with thought can become aware of this symbolic script through Science, Art and Religion; they can decipher Divinity itself and gradually create it."
Here we have one of the most beautifully expressed visions of the Hermetic enlightenment. Our 'Doors of Perception' have certainly rusted shut. This applies to most humanity. Ignorance is Bliss! This is our Death in Life, our country of the blind, where the one-eyed man is King. But what antidote is necessary to reverse this process of devolution? And what evidence do we have of the perceptions of highly evolved beings? That great writer of the literal kabala, J.L.Borjes laments this state of affairs:
"...that the outer world - forms, temperatures, the moon - is a language we humans have forgotten or which we can scarcely distinguish...It is also declared by De Quincy: "Even the articulate or brutal sounds of the globe must be all so many languages and ciphers that somewhere have their corresponding keys - have their own grammar and syntax; and thus the least things in the universe must be secret mirrors to the greatest."
Lama Govinda gives another example from Tibetan where the Spirit of Beauty is speaking to the Goddess Tara in the Red Temple of Tsaparang:
"I know that all forms which we inhabit have to perish - even as the priceless words of the Tathagata, stored up in these dust-covered manuscripts. But what I pray for is: let them not perish before they have fulfilled the purpose for which they were created; let them not perish before we have delivered the great message which is embodied in them."
The Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier, in his novel 'The Lost Steps' experiences the Hermetic vision, and says:
"I asked myself whether the higher forms of the aesthetic emotion do not consist merely in a supreme understanding of creation. A day will come when men will discover an alphabet in the eyes of chalcedonies, in the markings of the moth, and will learn in astonishment that every spotted snail has always been a poem."
These are the views of reality, from a Hermetic point of view that we have been exploring and documenting in the context of the Hermetic transmission in general, and the 'Atalanta Fugiens' , in particular..
We have noted that the chameleon is a symbol of change and camouflage on one level. Maier suggests that by adopting camouflage techniques, by blending into the culture, or even through 'infiltration', the Rosicrucian Brotherhood could paradoxically, be influencial in changing the patterns of culture into which they had infiltrated. This was the so-called 'invisibility' controversy that raged around the Rosicrucian publications in the early 17th century.
Though this may have been an operational necessity of the 'Serpent Lineage' of the Fire of Prometheus, in various dangerous circumstances. It also refers to the philosophical content that in esoteric streams of action, always resisted the reductionistic approach that has led us to the world materialistic view. This is what Mircea Eliade calls "...the profane and desanctified world" - a perfect vehicle for the ideology of the 'total market' in which humanity is seen only as prey for profit. Homo Economicus!
How successful has this operation been? Change is ruled by Uranus, which is also the astrological frequency of all revolutionary movement. Frank Herbert in his 'The Children of Dune' deals with this subject:
"The assumption that humans exist within an essentially impermanent universe, taken as an operational precept, demands that the intellect becomes a totally aware balancing instrument. But the intellect cannot react thus without involving the entire organism. Such an organism may be recognized by its burning, driving behaviour.And thus it is with a society treated as organism.But here we encounter an old inertia. Societies move to the goading of ancient, reactive impulses. They demand permanence. Any attempt to display the universe of impermanence arouses rejection patterns, fear, anger and despair. Then how do we explain the acceptance of prescience? Simply: the giver of prescient visions, because he speaks of an absolute (permanent) realization, may be greeted with joy by humankind even while predicting the most dire events."
The Book of Leto - After Harq al-Ada.
It is the "ancient, reactive impulses", the resistance to change that forced the Lineage to adopt the colour of the environment. Adapt or die is another way of saying this. The supple branch bends in the wind, the brittle branch breaks. It is not of necessity a matter of colour. The motive for camouflage is survival in the case of the hunted. But the chameleon also uses camouflage to hunt.
Carlo Suares says that the essence in Man:
"...is according to cabalistic postulates a movement both inner and outer, which builds structures and destroys them unceasingly."
We remember that C.C. Zain says that:
"...highest wisdom, such is symbolized by the Sage, comes from within and without."
The outer world, with its reaction to change and imprisoned within its inertia, has always reacted violently to information brought back to the body social by the mystics, Sages and prophets. Hans Jonas sees it in this light:
"...the first revelation expressing the fundamental contents of a religion is the greatest, the highest in rank. Each successive revelation is lower in rank and less authoritative than the last. Such conception forbids a true believer to place a new revelation on a level with the great revelations of the past and obviously creates a serious problem for the mystic since he imputes enormous value to his fresh living experience."
Here we have all the words associated with religious bigotry, "rank", "authority" and "forbidding". Why should the first revelation the greatest, the highest in rank, and the last? Who establishes this criteria? It is when this initial experience is systemized and institutionalized without the intrinsic value of the original event, that religious fascism is set up. With political power at an imperialistic stage, these calcified religious views and then forced on to other systems, with violence if necessary.
Having to resort to genocide in order to maintain its dogma is evidence of the spiritual poverty of religion, to say the least. Revelations which have become the copyright of one religion are then rammed down the throats of all and sundry in the form of frozen dogmas and theological speculations. This demonstrates the victory of hard-core materialistic concepts over the fresh input of new experience.
We must suffer the iron heal of dogma and ideology, but not the liberating power of our own creativity. This is certainly the situation in our society today - where our only creative choices are as consumers of artefacts.
For creativity and revelation are essentially revolutionary forces and thus cannot be sold like doctrines, ideologies and consumer goods. This procedure is all too common today where the legitimate renaissance of 'spiritual' and social values, that is, human values, has been cheapen by gurus selling their package systems in the marketplace.
G. Scholem gives another version of the process of revelation:
"The most radical of the revolutionary mystics are those who not only re-interpret and transform religious authority, but aspire to establish a new authority based on their own experiences. In extreme cases they may claim to be above all authority, a law unto themselves. The formlessness of the original experience may even lead to a dissolution of all form, even in interpretation. It is this perspective, destructive, yet not unrelated to the original experience of the mystic, which enables us to understand the borderline case of the nihilistic mystic as an all too natural product of inner mystical upheavals even if he was rejected with horror by all those about him. All other mystics try to find a way back to form, which is also a way to the community."
The life of Antonin Artaud, as documented in his collected writings is a perfect example of this "dissolution of all form". There are various flaws embedded within the action of trying "...to establish a new authority based on their own experience." The true mystic, it is presumed, would burn the boat and enter a "formless" experience beyond all known frames of phenomenal reference and never return to enforce his/her vision upon the body social.
Lao Tzu left for the mountains. The occupational hazards of trying to alter the existential basis of society ( as in the maximum density of Church and State) are obvious and well documented. The slipping into the Formlessness is the essence of the Buddhist Prajna Paramita Teachings, and encoded in the Gate Mantra:
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate Bodhi Swaha
which is translated as:
"Gone, Gone, Altogether Gone Beyond."
Thus this dissolution of Form is merely 'Sunyata'. It is not a nihilistic nothingness, as a reading of The Heart Sutra will prove. Certainly, even this interpretation could be dissolved as well. Because the essence of 'community' is Form, the implications of a mystic 'formless' career is the Path of Solitude. Yet this is not so - because there is a very powerful motive behind the return to Form and the Community, which is qualified as the Bodhisattva Vow.
These sections are from a book in process entitled" The Burning Salamander', An Exploration of the Hermetic Master, Michael Maier. Further Chapters are available fron: Lapis Publications, P.O.Box 15438, Vlaeberg, Cape Town 8018